BA gets virtuosity feast from Goerner, Gelber
For the Herald
Argentine pianists shine in contrasting events at the Colón and the Blue WhaleNelson Goerner, now in his late forties, is recognized in Europe as the best Argentine pianist of his generation. He lives in Geneva with his wife (also a pianist) but never fails to come to BA every year: this time, for two concerts with identical programme at the Colón for the Mozarteum Argentino.
His choice to begin the concert was rather unexpected, for pianists rarely play Händel (though Sviatoslav Richter did). I had heard his monumental Chaconne (variations on a bass) on its habitual instrument, the harpsichord, but not since 1962 (Fou Ts’ong) on the piano, and it was quite impressive. Händel’s fantastic contrapuntal skill is here at its best. As Barenboim in Bach, Goerner doesn’t try to imitate the harpsichord’s sound but uses fully the possibilities of the piano. His playing showed consumate control of all lines.
Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze lasts 35 minutes and is made up of 15 contrasting fragments, in the same style as other scores of his such as Carnival or Kreisleriana. Its title translates as “Dances of David’s League” and it’s a metaphor: the biblical David fought against the Philistines; for Schumann, these were those who rejected Romanticism in music. In what amounts to a recognition by the composer of his schizophrenic bent, two imaginary beings alternate: the poetic, dreamy, slow Eusebius, and the flighty, uncontrolled, fast Florestan. So the music shifts between these two poles in music that make the very essence of those Romantic times. It was written in 1837.
Goerner is generally a contained virtuoso, but this time he was wilder than usual in the swift pieces, at times even forcing the sound or rushing too much. Most of the time, however, this was masterful Schumann playing, particularly wistful in the meditative passages. And I was reminded of other far-off performances by Kempff (1964) or Anda (1969) that were intense and communicative.
Goerner gave us a Chopin selection in the second part; although I would have preferred something unitary, he chose well and played marvellously. A lovely performance of the endlessly subtle Barcarolle was followed by a strong Third Scherzo, the two Nocturnes Op.55 in perceptive approaches that privileged the search for exquisite hues, and a firm and solid Heroic Polonaise, just a notch below the fantastic Evgeny Kissin we heard months ago.
The encores extended the feast of great pianism and the first two are rarely heard: the Late Romantic Poem Op.32 No. 1 by Scriabin, and the well-wrought Etude for left hand Op.32 by Felix Blumenfeld, a Neo-Romantic Russian composer; in the latter, Goerner did the uncanny legerdemain of suggesting that the two hands were playing, such was his fluidity. He ended with the sad Chopin Prelude No. 6.
A few days earlier, the National Symphony offered an interesting concert at the Blue Whale. It was conducted by Christian Baldini, a young Argentine resident of San Francisco, featured the National Polyphonic Choir (Darío Marchese) and the National Children’s Choir (María Isabel Sanz), and was the occasion of the return of pianist Bruno Gelber with the redoubtable First Concerto by Brahms. The programme had two Ginasteras sandwiched one Beethoven: Suite of the ballet Panambí, Op.1; and Psalm 150, Op.5.
Panambí is an astonishing Op.1, written when the composer was 21; the complete score lasts 39 minutes and has 17 fragments; the Suite, only four (11 minutes): two slow, almost Impressionistic ones; and two visceral fast ones with plenty of percussion. Yes, there are influences (Bartók, Stravinsky) but the technical assurance is amazing. The psalm is also an early work (1939) and exuberant to a fault, with exaggerated percussion, but the ample final Alleluia is exciting; it lasts 15 minutes. Beethoven’s Elegiac Song Op.118 dates from 1834 (not as late as the opus may lead us to believe); it is pleasant, short and of little importance.
Baldini is technically very able and this showed in the accurate playing of the orchestra; however, he didn’t calibrate the decibels in the frequent climaxes of the Ginastera scores, stressed by the acoustics, which even after a month of extensive adjustments (in April) are still strident; the comparison with the Colón in such a powerful score as Walton’s march Crown Imperial, which filled the enormous hall with harmonious sound, drives me to the sad conclusion that the Blue Whale has inherent faults. Two things must be done: the shielding of the granite wall, and the elimination of the little roof over the choir. While the children sounded pure and well-balanced, the Polyphonic Choir seems to be in need of adjustments.
In 1960, two young Argentine pianists offered stunning accounts of Brahms’ massive First Concerto: Gelber and Barenboim. Fifty-six years later, both are still active, but time and health have taken a heavy toll on Gelber. He played this concerto several times in BA, always with splendid results: deep empathy with the aesthetics and majestic command blended ideally (as in his much praised recording with Decker). Now the command is intermittent and the sound is chunky, without the flexibility of yore. Baldini couldn’t avoid misadjustments both in the orchestra and the interrelation with the pianist.
Public Media Minister Hernán Lombardi representing the CCK and Culture Minister Pablo Avelluto saluted Gelber on stage: it was a fit tribute to a great career.